After a change in jobs, Christine Barker decided to relocate from Roland Park to a more convenient location.
So about a year ago, she decided to buy in College Hills, a section of Catonsville tucked away on property surrounding Catonsville Community College.
"I was living in Roland Park and changed jobs to Howard County," Barker said. "I couldn't imagine trying to get across the Beltway every day. So this area had easy access. But I'm still close to Baltimore. In fact, I'm closer getting to the Inner Harbor here than I was in Roland Park."
Although she left a townhouse in Roland Park with "lots of charm" she says her new townhouse is just as wonderful.
"This place gave me almost as much space as I had before," Barker said. "What's really great is, in front of me I have an open center with grass, and behind me it's all woods."
College Hills is divided into four sections built in several stages by several builders. The 130-acre property has just over 250 homes of varying styles and was developed in the late 1980s by Greenebaum & Rose Associates.
The neighborhood is laid out over small, winding cul-de-sacs that offer privacy and very little traffic from the nearby busy Catonsville streets.
The first two sections of College Hills were designated for single-family homes, but the topography of the area - with steep stream valleys and rock - begged for the remaining sections to be clustered homes. Although the cluster homes were contested by the surrounding Catonsville neighborhood, once the development was finished it became a popular choice for homeowners.
"Catonsville is a very tight-knit, close community where people often don't move far from," said Susan Wiest, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Catonsville.
"People stay here for generations and they all know each other," Wiest said. "This area is especially attractive to Catonsville families that didn't want to leave the community but wanted new construction. There are very few new-home developments in this area."
The homes vary between sections but include large townhouses, cluster homes and single-family homes. Prices range between the mid-$200,000s and just under $300,000.
"People like raising their families here," Wiest said. "It's very quiet, convenient and comfortable. And it's not very transient. There's a strong sense of roots."
Just as College Hills is popular with families, it seems to be just as much of a magnet for empty nesters and professionals, Wiest said. The most sought-after houses are the townhouses and cluster homes that come with three or four bedrooms, 2 1/2 to three bathrooms and extras such as European kitchens, 9-foot ceilings, garages and master bathroom suites.
Steve and Terry Young moved to a townhouse in the College Hills IV section four years ago after their son, Ryan, started college. Steve said they were looking for a new house with low maintenance and were struck by the number of amenities being offered.
"We lived in Catonsville in an older home. We had 18 oak trees in our yard so I was forever raking and working during the weekends," said Young, the president of the College Hills IV Homeowners Association. "We moved for the conveniences of a new home."
His townhouse has three fireplaces, crown molding and 9-foot ceilings.
Likewise, it didn't take Tom and Josephine DiVincenzo long to decide College Hills was right for them. They were one of the first 10 buyers in the College Hills IV section.
"They're not your typical townhouse," said Tom DiVincenzo, an agent with Century 21 Results Realty in Catonsville. "They look very much the same from the outside, but once you get in, they are 24 feet wide with all the modern amenities."
Tom and Jane White were attracted to the area from nearby Arbutus after Tom, who was attending Catonsville Community College, used to drive by their future single-family house on his way to class. When they saw it was for sale, the Whites jumped on the opportunity and purchased the house in 1996.
"We love this house just as much as we thought we would," Jane White said. "The location is great but you still feel a sense of quiet. The college is behind us; Patapsco State Park is down the street; and the golf course [Rolling Road Country Club] is right behind us. And with cul-de-sacs instead of through streets, it makes it ideal for a quieter community."
The community - the overall Catonsville area as well as College Hills - was also a big draw for the Whites. "Because the College Hills community is on a smaller scale we have gotten to know a lot of our neighbors. It's not uncommon to do a happy hour with several of us in the neighborhood. We also have an annual clean-up and block party. It's a great way to get the neighbors to meet each other," Jane White said. "Also, being next to the college, we can use their fields, tennis courts and track, as well as take classes. They have a tremendous amount to offer and it's right in our back yards."